My Perspective on the Safety and Sustainability of GM Crops

(This blog is part of a larger blog project entitled: Greg Peterson – Advocate for Truth: GMOs. Please read the entire blog project before passing judgement on anything you read here. All comments should be directed to the main page of the larger blog project.)

Alright, now that we (hopefully) have some common ground in terms of the facts about GMOs, we can talk about the 3 biggest questions I know everyone has: Are GM foods healthy? Are they safe? Are they sustainable?

Are GM Foods Healthy (Nutritious)?

I believe the answer to this question is a resounding yes. As mentioned earlier in the blog, GM products are exactly the same in nutritional value and physical makeup as their non-GMO counterparts. The argument of whether or not GM products are “healthy” can’t really exist in my opinion, because they are literally the same thing (nutrition-wise) as non-GMO products. A nutrition label on an ear of GM corn would be exactly the same as the label on an ear of non-GM corn. Inserting a gene into a plant does not change its appearance or nutritional value. 

I’ve eaten GM food since I was a kid. Millions of people have eaten GM food since they were kids. In fact, there have been over ONE TRILLION meals containing GMO products consumed over the past 20 years with absolutely no negative health impact found. (Read more here: Trillion Meal Study) There have been zero instances of sickness or death. The debate on the “health” of GM products should be really put to rest, in my opinion. Inserting a gene into a plant does not change the “healthiness” of a food.

Now, please realize that there are going to be unhealthy foods containing GM products in them (Energy drinks for example). However, this does not mean that the raw GM products (like corn) in these drinks are unhealthy. It is the processing, cooking, and/or mixing of other ingredients with the GM products that can create an unhealthy food or drink. This is one of the main misconceptions I see with the organic food industry. While organic farmers work extremely hard and create valuable food products, the original products of organic food and regular food are the exact same in composition. It is the end product (as well as the production methods used to grow them) that separates the two in the grocery store. You can cook just as wholesome of a meal with GM food products as you can with organic food products. But we’ll save that conversation for a separate blog post coming soon

To summarize, if you are determined to find a reason to stop eating GM food, it should not be because you believe it is a less nutritious product (because it’s not), it should be due more to safety and sustainability concerns, which I will address next.

Are GM Foods safe?

As of today, all signs point to GMOs being safe to consume. There have been over 2,000 independent studies over the last 20 years on this topic. (Link: 2,000 Studies) As shown in the “Eating GM Crops from the Field” video, I have been around GMOs my entire life and I have never seen any indication of any type of danger associated with their production and consumption. I believe most (if not all) GM crop farmers feel the same way. Are there issues with GMOs? Yes, of course. Many of those were explained in the “Why do farmers use GM Crops?” blog. However, in my opinion, the evidence that currently exists does nothing but support the stance of GM foods being safe.

I do realize that this does not guarantee the absolute safety of GMOs. There are new tests on GMOs being performed every day and it may be that some day one of them will come back with a negative side effect. At that point, I would change my opinion on GMOs, because new evidence would show me that there is new truth to be believed. However, until then I will remain convinced that they are indeed “safe.”

I put safe in quotations because, you see, most of what we do in life isn’t safe.

For instance, is it safe to:

  • Ride in or drive an automobile? (Reckless drivers, malfunction)
  • Wear “safety” belts in an automobile? (Seat belts are not 100% effective)
  • To be outside? (Heat, cold, earthquakes, poisonous animals, etc.)
  • To be inside? (Mold, poisonous spiders, etc.)
  • To use medicine? (Side effects anyone?)
  • To use a cell phone? (Where are the long term studies?
  • To fall in love? (Broken relationships can be detrimental to your health)

Hopefully you get my point. Nothing in this life is really “safe” and without risk. But we participate in these activities because we feel the benefits truly outweigh the perceived risks! Seriously, if you only worry about living “safe” all the time then you probably aren’t truly living. Life is full of risk. Every type of technology comes with risk. That includes GMOs. GM food has never been shown to be dangerous, but that does not mean the risk isn’t still there. I realize there are alternatives to GMOs that some people believe carry less risk, and that is where the organic food (non-GMO) industry comes into play. (Although there are still risks taken by consuming organic food as well) However, every farmer and consumer should be allowed choices of what to grow and what to eat, and that is why I will now address sustainability.

Are GM Foods sustainable?

The decision of whether or not to eat GM products is up to you. It is your personal choice. If you choose not to eat them, you can purchase food from the organic aisle in the grocery store. I have no problem with that! Organic producers are some of the hardest working people out there, and I have a lot of respect for them. I just hope you know why you are making that organic food purchase. It cannot be because GMOs are evil, unhealthy, toxic, poisonous, etc. They aren’t. It should only be because you believe there is less risk involved in your purchase.

What I do have a problem with is people trying to ban GMOs from being produced. Especially when they use false information to accomplish their agenda. (See: What are GMOs not? Debunking GMO Myths) Until there is sufficient evidence that GMOs are harmful to people or to the environment, farmers should be allowed to produce them and consumers should be allowed to consume them. First of all, because we live in a free country. Second of all…

Sustainability. Both for humans and the environment. The population of the world is expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050. To feed this population, it is estimated that we will need to produce twice as much food then as we are producing now. Available farmland is shrinking back each day due to issues such as urban sprawl. How are we going to sustainably feed this many people? There are 2 options (that I can see) to accomplishing that:

Option 1: Revert back to smaller farms and more farmers. I believe this is what believers on the organic side of things desire. It is definitely the most romantic of the two options. However, there are some issues with this option. You see, there are fewer farmers each year and the trend doesn’t seem to be changing. The average age of a farmer is 55 years old and has been increasing for the last couple of decades. Where are the 10 million extra farmers (that I think would be required to farm entirely organic) going to come from in 30 years when the older generation of farmers passes away? Farming is a very difficult job, and most people would rather be spending their time working weekdays 9-5, enjoying free weekends, and relying on others to grow their food. Another problem is that the current structure of the agricultural industry would have to be overthrown. It’s hard to explain this in detail as the agricultural industry is ridiculously complex, but transforming the operating systems, transportation, storage, etc away from large farms and technology like GM crops would cost trillions of dollars, huge government involvement, and simply isn’t something that could happen over a few years or even decades. Finally, a free market system like we have in the USA does not cater well to smaller farms. Just like in every other industry, it favors larger, more efficient farms that can produce food at a lower cost. It is also not possible to force farmers to downsize their operation and to grow their food organically. Farmers are never happy when they are told to change their operation after they have worked for decades to try and perfect it. I could go on and on with more issues. The point is that, in my opinion, option 1 is highly unlikely to ever happen. However, I have no problem with people trying to make it happen, as long as they go about it ethically. (This means no false, agenda-driven information, focusing on solutions and benefits to this option, not attacking Option 2. Remember, over 90% of farmers in Option 2 are family farmers like me. It makes me sad when people attack the farm families who are part of the foundation of our society.)

Option 2: Use technologies like GM crops to continue to increase yields, reduce chemical usage, and improve efficiency. The benefits of using technology to farm have been clearly outlined in this blog. Is there risk? Yes. But the risks that are possible are, in my opinion, completely overshadowed by the benefits of technology. If GM crops are supported, they will provide a huge impact to farmers in underdeveloped countries in the future. They will be able to solve a lot of hunger crises throughout the world. (Link: GMO impact in underdeveloped countries)

The agricultural community is a community that has fought through many difficulties together and I believe we have the tools to solve this dilemma. However, we must be allowed to use those tools.

Conclusion: What then should we do?

(The following is repeated information from the “My Perspective on GMOs as a Christian” blog)

Today, in 2014, we enjoy the safest, most abundant, food supply in the history of the entire world! Never before have we seen the amount of choices of food we have today and the ease of which it’s available. It’s quite amazing to be honest. But yet, millions of people spend their time complaining about their food supply. I don’t get it! I realize that farmers and agribusinesses should be held accountable and that questions should be asked about the safety and quality of food, but at some point thankfulness needs to come into play.

For some perspective, picture in your mind your ancestors from the Great Depression, or the people from the original thirteen colonies of America, or even the people from ancient times. What do you think they would say about today’s food supply? I don’t think their first response would be negative. They would be blown away by the quantity, diversity, and availability of the food in our grocery stores.

People today (including myself) take so much for granted and complain about things we have. We repeatedly bite the hand that feeds us. A middle class person in America lives a more comfortable life than 99% of people in the history of humanity. Can’t that be enough? When are we going to be satisfied? When are we going to be thankful for what we have? I realize farmers and the food industry needs to be held in check. Asking questions is great! Attacking us based on false information? Not so great.

Farmers are working harder than you know every day trying to feed you. The least you could do is say thank you. Not complain about what they’re feeding you. (Asking questions and keeping us in check is not complaining) If you do feel we are making bad decisions, then you are absolutely free to grow your own food or buy from another type of farmer (organic). But I hope that you can understand that we are doing the best we can, and we are making the decisions we feel are the right ones, not only for us, but also for the environment and for the consumer. And that includes decisions about GMOs.

It’s Time to Find A Real Problem to Fight Against

Whether or not you agree with what I have to say about GMOs in this blog post, the real truth I want to get at here is that you really shouldn’t be wasting your time fighting against GMOs. (And to be honest, I shouldn’t have to be spending time defending why I grow them) Why has this become such a priority? Aren’t there bigger fish to fry? Here is a list of some of the real issues that I believe each and every one of us, including myself, should be investing more time and energy into stopping:

  • Human Slavery: There are 30 million human slaves in the world today. 30 million.
  • Poverty: 1 billion children are born into poverty. 22,000 children die each year because of it.
  • Hunger: 805 million people do not have enough available food to live a healthy, active lifestyle.
  • Abuse: 6 million children are reported to have been abused in the United States alone. 1 in 4 women will experience some type of abuse in their lifetime.

A lesser, non-proven issue? GMOs: Responsible for 0 deaths and 0 sicknesses since they were introduced.

Reading these things will probably make you feel sad. There are two things we should all do after reading these statistics. 1. Be thankful for what we have. 2. Stop wasting time complaining and start doing something positive to help reduce some of these numbers! A song I think of when I write this is Matthew West’s “Do Something.”

The Reality of Sustainable Food Production

As human beings, we have to understand that this world is not perfect. Sustainable food production, while theoretically possible, is never going to be perfect either. Are GMOs perfect? No. Is it possible that someday we will find a better alternative? Yes. However, until the day comes when we no longer need the technology, we must continue to improve our methods of production. I believe GMOs to be better for the soil environment, better for farmers, better for poverty-ravished communities, and overall better for producing safe, high-quality, affordable food. That’s why I grow them, eat them myself, and promote the truth about them. I hope you have learned something from reading this blog. Please direct all questions and comments to the main blog: Greg Peterson – Advocate for Truth: GMOs. We will be answering those as part of the blog. Also, feel free to follow us on Facebook to keep in touch!

Thank you so much for reading. I will appreciate hearing feedback from all of you. Let’s get this conversation started and find some solutions to the real world problems we are facing today!

-Greg Peterson

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3 thoughts on “My Perspective on the Safety and Sustainability of GM Crops

  1. Pingback: Greg Peterson – Advocate for Truth: GMOs | The Peterson Farm Blog

  2. Greg, thank you for taking the time to explain your position on GMO’s.

    I do not agree that we know GMOs are safe because they have not been in existence for long enough to measure longterm results on human bodies or on plant and animal life around them. But regardless of that, why can we not allow consumers to decide for themselves whether or not to eat GMO food by simply labeling the food in the first place? Why do farmers and food companies resist so strongly doing that? Most people may go ahead and buy GMO food if it is cheaper and tastes good, but why should those who do not want to eat it for health reasons be deprived of that choice? This to me suggests ill will on the part of the food industry.

    I know most of our farmers work very hard with the good intention of feeding a hungry population. I would just like to see more farmers listening to those asking questions about the wisdom of the ways conventional agriculture is being done for the sake of efficiency and profit – and look with us at alternatives that would be healthier for the soil, the plants, and all those who eat them

    My other question is: how far are we willing to continue to go increasing chemical fertilizers and pesticides and more GMO’s as the undesirable weeds and insects keep developing more immunity to our chemicals? I do not see how that path can possibly contribute to greater health or a healthy farm economy!

    To feed a hungry world, more food per acre can be produced by sustainable methods than by conventional – that research is done. And many unemployed people would love to farm if we creatively make land available to them. Let’s all keep an open mind to the questions before us and together find solutions that work for all!

    Thanks for speaking and for listening!

    Sister Claire McGowan
    New Pioneers for a Sustainable Future
    Springfield, KY

    • Claire, Thanks for the message! Not sure if you read my entire blog, as most of the questions you asked are answered in my blog. I’ll answer them anyway! Do you think that 20 years of GMOs and 15 trillion meals of them consumed is not long term enough? What do you consider long term. I think after 15 trillion meals and 2,000 research studies (linked in blog), we can begin to believe in the safety of GMOs. As far as labeling goes, it should be similar to labeling of fat free foods. You label the foods that are fat free “fat free” (non-GMO) and don’t label the foods that have fat in them (GMO). That process is already available in today’s grocery stores, in the organic aisle (all non-GMO). You can’t say people would not buy GMO food for health reasons, because there is no nutritional difference in GMO food than in non-GMO (I mention that in my blog). That is another reason why labeling doesn’t make sense; there are no nutritional differences.

      Your point about herbicides I addressed in this blog as well. We DO need to reduce our chemical usage in agriculture. I provided about 10 things farmers are currently working on to reduce it. Weeds will always be developing more immunity to our practices, whether or not we use GMOs. They are tough to beat!

      I’d be surprised if there are millions of extra people who want to take on the extremely hard job of farming for a living! That’s what it would take to farm in the way you are referring to. The amount of people who want to farm has steadily declined each year for several decades. Now, hypothetically, if there were that many people who would want to farm, what are your ideas for “creatively making land available to them?” How would we accomplish that without strict government interference? (I do not think that more governmental interference is a good thing…)

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